Historical items in downtown Gadsden

By Danny By Danny "The Vagabond" Crownover

  The Vagabond is back with two little-known historical items of national interest in downtown Gadsden.

The old Post Office building, now known as the Federal Building, is located at the southwest corner of Broad and Sixth streets. The building was designed by a famous national architect and contains a very rare work of art by a national painter.

During the last decade of the 19th century, the United States government, through the Department of the Treasury, launched major construction projects around the country to build a series of impressive post offices and government buildings in key cities. In 1897, architect James Knox Taylor became the supervising architect of the U.S. Treasury.

For 15 years, Taylor oversaw the design of many of these projects throughout the United States, including the one in Gadsden.

The Gadsden Post Office building was completed in 1910 as a one-story building and expanded to three stories in 1913 to become the Federal building.

The post office remained open during this addition. The building is an Italian Renaissance Revival-type building faced in white Georgia marble with banded rustication and a red clay tile roof with paired Tucson columns supporting the porch and balustrade.

In the courtroom, which is located in the second floor addition, is a painting done by Thomas Gilbert White and installed himself in 1915 on the south wall.

The painting was done at a cost of $1,800 after White won the competitive bid. This painting recently has been restored and repaired, removing the dirty grime throughout the l5’9” x 7’6” canvas.

The colors now are vividly shown. There are plans for designs surrounding the upper walls and ceiling of the courtroom, which are covered with many years of soot and grime.

Thomas Gilbert White was a leading portrait and mural painter of his time. He studied at Academic Julian and at the Academic de Beaux-Arts in Paris with the also famous artist James McNeil Whisler.

White’s works are found in the Pan-American Building in Washington D.C., the state capitol of Kentucky, Utah and Oklahoma and the County Courthouse of New Haven, Conn.

White’s wife was the model for the figure of Nemesis, and international strongman Eugene Sandow posed for the central male figure.

The mural depicts the Greek goddess Nemesis, who personified retributive justice and was a relentless avenger. She serves as an Angel of Justice to prevent two men from committing a crime against their weaker neighbor. The sword in her hand symbolizes real protection to the rights of individuals.

The mural’s location in the courtroom is significant, suggesting that the court has the duty not only of seeking protection of the weak.

It is known in art circles as a remarkable work of art.

In 1936, an annex was added in the rear of the post office. U.S. Postmaster General James A. Farley came for the ceremony.

In 1958, a fire destroyed most of the building’s roof and damaged offices on the third floor. Fortunately, the painting was only slightly damaged and easily restored.

On June 3, 1976, the building was placed on the National Register as one of the most distinguished examples of 20th century architecture.

Stay tuned for more adventuring!

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